Milan (AFP) – Napoli stayed top of Serie A with a 2-0 win over Benevento on Sunday, after champions Juventus — just one point behind — piled on the pressure with a seven-goal demolition of Sassuolo.
Here are five things we learned from the 23rd round of Serie A matches:
Higuain finally gets Juventus hat-trick
“Sooner or later, a hat-trick had to come,” said Argentine Gonzalo Higuain after claiming the 11th treble of his career, but first for Juventus.
Higuain — who scored three hat-tricks with Real Madrid, Napoli and Argentina — hit his first for the Turin giants in a 20-minute second-half spree.
The 30-year-old, after a brief spell when goals were hard to come by, has scored five goals in his last three games and has netted 17 times in all competitions this season.
“This triple is a great moment for me. The team had a great game, once again we didn’t concede a goal and we have to continue on this path,” he added, after Juve’s seventh straight league win.
Hamsik hits 100
Napoli skipper Marek Hamsik, already the club’s record goalscorer, reached a century of Serie A goals against Benevento.
Dries Mertens scored with a lob in the first half with Hamsik doubling the lead with a tap-in shortly after the break for his 100th in the Italian league.
It was the 118th in all competitions for the Slovak who has already overtaken Argentine legend Diego Maradona as Napoli’s all-time record goalscorer.
Napoli ‘beyond expectations’
Maurizio Sarri said Napoli were playing off the radar after winning their 11th of 12 games on the road this season against neighbouring Benevento.
“We cannot feel pressure, because we are going beyond anyone’s expectations. Don’t forget, pre-season you all said it was a fight between Juventus and Milan. We are doing better than I expected, than the club expected, so there is zero pressure.
“At the moment, Serie A is quite similar to the Bundesliga, where there’s a club that is clearly stronger than the others. We’ve done well to keep the title race open, whereas in Germany that hasn’t happened.
“The surprising thing is that Napoli are up there, not Juventus. This team picked up 60 points in 23 games, an extraordinary tally.”
Inter ‘lack character’
Luciano Spalletti blamed his side’s lack of character for their fall from being top of the table until the start of December to fourth place.
“We have a weak character and are below par in more or less every area,” lamented Spalletti after Inter were held 1-1 by Walter Zenga’s Crotone at the San Siro to go 10 games in all competition without a win.
Inter haven’t scored more than one goal in a match since a 5-0 win over Chievo on December 3 — with six points from eight games and only five goals scored. “A few of the players who can make the difference and give that extra quality are below par,” added Spalletti.
AC Milan see red again
Gennaro Gattuso blamed naivety as Davide Calabria’s sending off resulted in a 1-1 draw against Udinese, as Milan dropped one spot to eighth.
“It’s the sixth (red card) that we’ve taken,” said Gattuso. “There can be some naivety with a young team like ours, before the expulsion we were masters of the field, but we are here to lick our wounds.”
A rejuvenated Milan were on course for their fourth straight win until defender Calabria, 21, was sent off and Gianluigi Donnarumma scored an own goal.
“I was naive,” said Calabria. “There’s anger and disappointment about not having brought home the three points.”